The Matthews Monument at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pansies, Poppies and Passion Flowers

While the Victorians had a few most-favorite flowers that they placed on cemetery tombstones (lily of the valley and roses being two of the most popular), they used many types of flowers to symbolize different sentiments to mark the resting place of their loved ones.  And while I haven’t found an abundance of carvings of pansies, poppies and passion flowers, I have discovered a few lovely examples of each of them.


To the Victorians, pansies symbolized humility and remembrance.  The history of the pansy is linked to its ancestor, the viola, which originated in Europe.   A delicate and yet hardy bloom, the viola was cultivated by the Greeks for medicinal use.  Sometime after the 4th century B.C., a mutation occurred:  the viola gave birth somehow to a wild pansy, a flower at home in alpine meadows and rocky ledges.  The first sightings of the pansy might have been in France, as its name traces back to pensee, French for thought or remembrance.

Hybridization of the pansy blossomed (forgive me) in the mid-19th century, pansies became a popular flower for Victorian gardens.


The poppy, both the flower and the seed pods, represents eternal sleep, peace and rest.  The Greek goddess Demeter, in despair over the seizure of her daughter Persephone by Pluto, ate poppies in order to fall asleep and forget her grief.  

Opium is derived from poppies, and when combined with alcohol derivatives, produces laudanum, a popular Victorian medicine used as a headache and sleep remedy.  Also, numerous household medicines contained opium and were used to treat children, such as Godfrey’s Cordial, commonly given to children and infants as a sleeping draught.  Sometimes, however, overdoses happened, and eternal sleep came sooner than planned.

Passion Flower

The passion flower is a symbol of faith and belief that Christ, through his suffering, was sent to save us. The different parts of the unusual flower of the passion-fruit plant were interpreted by Spanish priests in 17th-century South America to symbolize the crucifixion and the suffering of Christ. The central column of the flower represents the pillar to which Jesus was tied to be scourged. The thread-like inner petals represent the crown of thorns, the five yellow stamens symbolize the five wounds of Christ and the three pink styles represent the nails. The ten outer petals symbolize the ten faithful apostles.  

The Spanish introduced Europe to the passion flower in the 1700’s, and the by the 19th century, it could be found in North America as well.  The Victorians continued to view the passion flower as a symbol of Christ.

Pansies, Riegelsville Cemetery, Rieglesville, PA

Pansies, St. John's Lutheran Cemetery, Honesdale, PA

Poppies, Glen Dyberry Cemetery, Honesdale, Pa

Poppies, Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Poppies, Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Poppies, Easton Cemetery, Easton, PA

Poppies, Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

Poppies, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Passion Flower, Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

Passion Flower, Trumbauersville Cemetery, Trumbauersville, PA

Passion Flower Close-Up, Dunmore Cemetery, Dunmore, PA

No comments: